How long?

Another mass shooting….

Another round of thoughts and prayers….

Another series of “conversations” about whether or not changes in gun laws would have saved lives….

Another insistence that a “good guy” with a gun could have stopped the shooting…

Another time of red flags missed…

But people are still dead.

What should have been a time of peaceful worship…of celebration of the naming of a child…is destroyed in a rain of bullets and hate.

There will be more vigils….

And we will say “never again”….

But deep in our hearts we know it will happen again…because we are too in love with our guns to make any changes. Too in love with our ideas of “freedom” to work together to make our schools and places of worship safe for everyone. Too enamored with our freedom of speech to acknowledge that words of hatred and division have an impact.

How long?

And how many more will have to die?

How long…?

 

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Shouldn’t church just be … church?

“Why does political ‘stuff’ have to get talked about at church? I come to church to hear God’s word; I can get enough of the other stuff the rest of the week. Shouldn’t church just be…well…church?”

That depends.

My father, who was a full-time minister in my faith tradition, had a saying that the responsibility of the church was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

I’m not sure we’re really accomplishing either of those responsibilities very well today.

There are a lot of hurting people who would like to find a place where they are accepted, loved, and told they are people of worth. Unfortunately, far too often when they step into a church, they are told that they have to change…that their lifestyle keeps them from being loved…that God hates who/what they are…and they leave feeling worse than when they come.

And those who are comfortable far too often find themselves able to nod in agreement when they hear words that confirm that their comfortable lifestyle is proof that God loves them and what they are doing meets with God’s approval.

Too often church means we close the doors on the world as it is and the rest of the week, making a nice, safe shelter for us and those we like and agree with.

But those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus need to take a closer look at this one we follow.

He started out his public ministry by quoting an older prophet (Isaiah 4:18-19 CEB):

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

When his followers asked him to teach them to pray, he included this as part of his prayer (Matthew 6:10 Good News Translation):

may your Kingdom come;
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Both of those teachings sound to me like we have some major responsibility towards those we share this earth with.

And there’s an even clearer message. Many of us who claim to be followers of this Jesus may be surprised when we face him. Here’s what he said about that (Matthew 25:31-45 The Message):

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”

Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, “Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.”

Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?”

He will answer them, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.”

So…should church just be…well…church? If that means that it calls us to care for our brothers and sisters, whether they are in our social circles or not…whether they are the same religion…whether they are the same color…sexual orientation…gender…race… whether we agree with their politics or not, then I’m for that kind of church!

Do not erase…

For some reason, we humans seem to want to make the world in our image. We want it to be ordered and fixed the way we want it to be–and we seem to be willing to do almost anything to make it that way.

But science shows us that there is an infinite variety and diversity.

And for those of us who call ourselves Christians, our sacred book of scripture talks about the process of creation–that God created this wonderful diversity, including the diversity of human beings who are made in God’s image.

We don’t understand the reasons for all that diversity in creation…and maybe there isn’t any real reason. Maybe God just enjoys creating that variety!

If that is the case, then why do we keep thinking that we need to erase everything and everyone that doesn’t fit into our nice neat boxes? Why can’t we just delight in the varieties in our wonderful world?

The current administration is considering a policy that would effectively erase the identity of transgender individuals:

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” reads the memo, according to the Times. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

But that ignores what we have been learning about the science of gender identity and sexual orientation…and insists that doctors ignore what is in the best interests of their patients simply because a government policy (created by individuals who have had a habit of ignoring scientific evidence that they don’t like) decrees that something doesn’t exist.

Transgender people do exist. They are our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, sometimes parents, friends…. They have the same hopes, desires, dreams, fears as the rest of us–and they do not deserve for their identity to be erased by the government.

Who Am I?

I keep reading and hearing posts about how “all these Democrats” and “liberals” are ruining the country…are anti-God…are anti-patriotic…who hate anyone who disagrees with them…want to take away everybody’s guns…and on and on. You know the kind of language I’m talking about.

Well, I’m not sure who all these Democrats and liberals are that are being talked about. While I am a registered Independent, I tend to vote Democratic, and I would consider myself liberal. But I tend to get lumped into that group.

You might be interested to know that I am an ordained minister who believes in God’s love for all people. And while Christianity is the path that I have chosen, I have also enjoyed sharing with friends and family members who have followed different spiritual paths (or none).

I love the country of America. I lived for a few years of my childhood in another country, but America is my home, and I love it.

I have a number of friends I disagree with politically and theologically–but I don’t hate them. Disagreement doesn’t equal hate; it just means I disagree with you.

While I don’t want a gun in my home, I’m not trying to take away everybody else’s guns. My daughter has a concealed carry permit. I have family who hunt. I’m fine with folks having guns for target practice…for hunting…and even for self-protection if that is their choice. But I think it’s well past time for some common sense gun control so that we don’t keep having to send “thoughts and prayers” to the families of people killed by someone who thinks they have a right to carry a weapon whose only purpose is to kill as many people as possible.

I believe that climate change is real, that we–as human beings–are major contributors to it, and that we must make major changes to try to reverse it before it is too late. I don’t believe we have much time, and I am concerned that a refusal to acknowledge it is far too prevalent today.

I believe that education is more than merely indoctrination…that it should challenge some of our understandings rather than merely confirm us in our prejudices. I want teachers to be allowed to teach, to encourage thinking in our children rather than helping them prepare for test after test after test.

And yes, I support legal abortion. I remember back alley abortions, and I don’t want to go back to that time. There are a lot of reasons why a woman might choose to have an abortion, and I believe those decisions should be made by her in consultation with her doctor, her significant other, and a minister (again, if that is her choice).

I also support equality for members of the LGBTQ+ community. I didn’t always…but I have grown in my understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation, and I can no longer deny individuals the same rights and protection that I have.

Although, as I indicated above, I am an ordained minister, I believe there should be a wall of separation between church and state so that all individuals can worship in safety, without the government breathing down their necks.

I believe that women should be able to feel safe when they walk down the street–and that their experiences should be believed. Yes, I know there are sometimes false accusations, but those are few and far between. It’s far more likely that a woman will not share an experience of sexual assault because of how she has seen other women attacked and demeaned while reliving a traumatic experience.

I also believe that there has to be a better way of working out our differences with other governments than going to war. However, I appreciate those individuals who choose to join the armed services as their way of helping to protect this country that I love. My husband served in Vietnam, and two of my grandsons also served in the military. One was a Marine who served in Iraq and who died far too young. The other was in the army and served in Afghanistan.

I would love for us to return to a time of civility with each other…with a willingness to engage in true conversation with each other as we search to find common ground. I would love to see lawmakers be willing to reach across the aisle to work together…to understand that “compromise” is not a dirty word.

I do also see some posts and comments making similar comments about “Republicans” and “conservatives”…so this issue is not one-sided. We are all guilty.

But can’t we please start seeing each other as individuals? Complex individuals with whom we may agree on some issues and disagree on others? Can’t we please start focusing on finding common ground…some places where we can work together?

We have to, before it’s too late. Before this country becomes so terribly divided that we cannot find our way back together. I just hope it’s not too late…

 

 

Hypocrites?

I’ve been seeing the word “hypocrite” thrown around a lot these last few days, and I thought it might be a good idea to step back…see what the word really means…and who it applies to.

Interestingly, the word originally comes from the theater, a translation of a Greek word that means “actor” which itself comes from two Greek words that mean “an interpreter from underneath.” Why? Because Greek actors wore large masks and interpreted their characters from underneath the masks.

According to Merriam-Webster, it then took on an extended meaning to refer to anybody who was wearing a figurative mask and pretending to be someone or something they weren’t. Then in the 13th century, it showed up in religious texts, referring to someone who pretends to be morally good or pious to deceive others. Finally, in the 1700s, it showed up with the meaning it tends to have today: “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.”

If we’re really honest with ourselves, we are all hypocrites at some point in our lives. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t dome something that contradicts what they say they believe (and yes, I’m including myself in that).

When we start talking about politics, the word “hypocrite” really gets used. It is certainly not limited to any one party; all political parties have hypocrites and make hypocritical statements.

No one is immune.

As someone who has chosen to follow Jesus, I am challenged to not be hypocritical…to try to make sure that my stated beliefs and the way I live are congruent–that they match. Am I able to do that all the time? No. Do I regret when I miss the mark? You bet!

Right now I struggle, though. I hear many who loudly proclaim their Christianity insist that we should all live by the ten commandments (the law of Moses, not Jesus–although still good rules to live by)…not lying, not committing adultery, not stealing, etc., etc. But at the same time, I see and hear those same self-proclaimed Christians supporting and excusing individuals whose lives and actions are in direct contrast to the those commandments and to the standards loudly held by those Christians.

I struggle. If I were not already a follower of Jesus, I’m not sure I would be attracted to the religion that claims his name. I find myself understanding Gandhi’s comment more than I used to: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

What if, instead of demanding that we live by the Ten Commandments, those of us who are Christians follow Jesus’ challenge to love God with all of our heart and soul and then loving our neighbors as we love ourselves? Would that make it easier for us to avoid the label of being hypocrites?

I hope so. We’re not all going to ever agree completely, and that’s all right. But I would challenge all of us to do our best to make our beliefs and actions match. That would make a better world for all of us.

How do we see?

That question–how do we see?–could be answered in a variety of ways. But it was triggered by a short incident in a book I read…a video I saw…and a picture I saw.

First…in a book titled Wounds Are Where Light Enters, Walter Wangerin, Jr., the author, tells of an incident that involved his adopted African-American son when he was a small child. He was good friends with a neighbor girl, but one day the girl’s mother said that they couldn’t play together any more. Wangerin and his wife thought it was because their son played rougher than his friend did–but that wasn’t the case. It was because he was black. Wangerin, the family’s pastor, went to visit and talk to the mother, who greeted him warmly and then began commiserating about how difficult life was for black children, especially boys…and that she wasn’t surprised they turned to alcohol and crime. Wangerin was nonplussed and asked if she didn’t see that her attitude was one of the things that made it so difficult for them. Why had she cut him off? Her response was simple. “No…black and white don’t marry.”

She didn’t see a little boy who only wanted to play with his friend. She didn’t see a child…she saw color.

Second…a video came up on my Facebook newsfeed about a 66-year-old man who was colorblind. He was given the gift of Enchroma glasses, which allowed him to see color for the first time in his life. It was incredible to watch him see the world in a new way…overwhelming but absolutely joyful.

Image may contain: one or more peopleAnd then third…a picture I saw tonight. I have no words to describe the heartbreak I felt when I saw the picture this little girl who lives in an orphanage drew…a picture of her mother, and then she took off her shoes, and curled up on her mother’s chest.

How do we see? What do we see?

Do we only see what’s on the outside? Or are we willing to look beyond the obvious? to see the inside?

We can put “force fields” around ourselves so that we protect ourselves…because to see the inside requires us to be vulnerable, and that can be frightening. It calls us to be advocates for change…

My faith tradition talks about enduring principles, and some of them call me to see the world differently:

  • Worth of all people
  • Pursuit of peace
  • Unity in diversity
  • Blessings of community

So, how do we see? What do we see?

Are we willing to open our eyes…to see the world in new ways? I hope so.

 

 

What are we afraid of?

Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Why?

Because fear feeds on itself. Once we start being afraid, then we constantly find things to be afraid of…and it begins a vicious circle. We become afraid and so we insulate ourselves from those things that we fear–and then we become afraid that we haven’t protected ourselves well enough and so we pull within ourselves even more…and more…and more.

Eventually we find ourselves living in such a little world that there is no room for anything but fear. We find ourselves like Rapunzel, locked into a tower away from anything and anybody that could rescue us…no door to open…and the sad thing is that we have done it to ourselves.

What are we so afraid of?

  • The “other?” Someone who is different from us in some way (ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, religion, political, gender identity…)?
  • Anything that challenges our long-held beliefs?
  • The future?
  • Being alone?
  • Change?

So how do we get over being afraid? It’s not easy.

It’s so much simpler, at least in the short-term, to hold on to our fears. They protect us…or at least we think they do, until they imprison us.

We have to face the fears…name them. Until we do, they will continue to hide in dark corners, ready to jump out at any unexpected moment.

We have to decide whether we are going to open the door and let hope come in…let faith begin to develop. We have to begin to understand that fear often begins inside us. Yes, there are some valid reasons to be careful and cautious in our lives–but not for every aspect of living.

Pulling the weeds of fear is difficult. It’s challenging. It requires us to be willing to listen to others…to even see ourselves in them. It requires us to be vulnerable, to be willing to accept pain.

But in the long run, it’s the only way to live. When we lock ourselves in the tower of fear, we’re not living. We may be surviving, but that’s it.

When we live, we see colors…we love diversity…we choose to walk with others–perhaps to give them company, but in so doing, we find we are no longer alone.

So what will we choose? Fear? Or opening the door to love and to hope…to life?